- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Here’s a look at the next wave of prospects the Nationals hope will be making their way to Washington sooner or later:

LIKELY TRIPLE-A BOUND

Chris Marrero, 1B: Marrero, 22, drew rave reviews this spring for the strides he made defensively at first base. The Nationals‘ No. 1 pick in 2006, Marrero was drafted as a third baseman, but he was converted initially to the outfield and now to first base. The bat was always there - through a nasty broken fibula that also resulted in torn ligaments and ended his 2008 season in June - and was especially prevalent last year at Double-A Harrisburg, where he hit .294 with 18 homers and 82 RBI. Marrero was named an Eastern League All-Star and added to his progression in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he hit .306 in 23 games.

Cole Kimball, RHP: Kimball will pitch for the Nationals at some point this season. Several members of the organization said as much following Kimball’s dismissal from major league camp, which was predicated on the desire to have the organization’s No. 7 prospect (as ranked by Baseball America) face minor league hitters at a higher level rather than any issue with his performance in camp this spring, which was terrific. Kimball is a bulldog on the mound and possesses the competitive fire teams love to see in potential closers. He’s also got three effective pitches: a plus fastball, a split-finger fastball and a nice curveball he can use as an out pitch as well. Kimball dominated at Double-A in 2010, going 8-1 with a 2.17 ERA, 18 saves and 101 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings of work, and he’ll most likely take his talents to Triple-A this year before an eventual call-up.

Tom Milone, LHP: A crafty left-hander, Milone has exceptional control over all three of his pitches, and one talent evaluator called him one of the best “feel the pitch” pitchers in the Nationals‘ organization. He was named the Nationals‘ 2010 minor league pitcher of the year after a 12-5, 2.85 season at Double-A Harrisburg, where he struck out 155 batters in 158 innings. After making the Eastern League All-Star team in 2010, Milone should start the year in a crowded Triple-A rotation.

LIKELY DOUBLE-A BOUND

Derek Norris, C: Considered one of the most advanced hitters in the Nationals‘ organization, Norris displays exceptional plate discipline and tremendous strike-zone judgment. Norris, ranked the Nationals‘ No. 2 prospect by Baseball America, has a short, quick swing and can hit the ball to all fields, helping him to a .286 average in 2009 at Single-A Hagerstown. After having his hamate bone removed in October of 2009, Norris regained full health last fall and put up big numbers in the Arizona Fall League (.293 avg., eight doubles, three triples, .385 OBP). Norris has a strong arm and has improved enough defensively that the Nationals are not considering moving him out of the catching position.

Tyler Moore, 1B: Moore was straddling the Mendoza line in the first half of the 2010 season at Single-A Potomac and got so hot in the second half - hitting .346 after the All-Star break - that he finished the season with a .269 average, 31 homers and 111 RBI. Moore has a lot of raw power, drawing comparisons to a young Dan Uggla. At 24 years old, the progress Moore made in 2010 sparked the idea that there may be even more to come from him, which could put him on a path to Washington sometime in the next one or two years, though not necessarily as a first baseman.

Steve Lombardozzi, INF: Lombardozzi, a Maryland native and son of the former major leaguer of the same name, is primarily a second baseman with a grinder mentality who is lauded for quality at-bats and getting the most out of his tools. Lombardozzi is a switch-hitter and profiles as a leadoff man who can drive the ball to all fields. He hit .294 with 35 doubles and had 20 stolen bases and a .371 on-base percentage in 2010 between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. He also hit .283 in the Arizona Fall League with a .385 OBP.

Brad Meyers, RHP: Meyers is one to watch this season because it will be his first fully healthy season since he broke the navicular bone in his left foot - an injury that limited him to just six starts for Double-A Harrisburg in 2010. The Nationals‘ 2009 Pitcher of the Year, Meyers has a herky-jerky delivery not unlike that of reliever Tyler Clippard’s and is very deceptive with his pitches (fastball, slider, change-up). He was 11-3 with a 1.72 ERA between Potomac and Harrisburg in 2009.

LIKELY SINGLE-A BOUND

Danny Rosenbaum, LHP: Rosenbaum was very impressive in 2010, posting a 2.25 ERA in 25 minor league starts between Hagerstown and Potomac, and was even better the year before in the Gulf Coast League (4-1, 1.95 ERA). A 22nd-round pick out of Xavier in 2009, Rosenbaum has strong control over his fastball, a plus curveball and a developing change-up. He could get the call up to Double-A Harrisburg early this season, if not at the start.

Sandy Leon, C: The 22-year-old out of Venezuela is about to begin his fifth season in the Nationals‘ organization and is considered the best defensive catcher in the organization. Leon, a switch-hitter who hit .249 in 2010 at Single-A Hagerstown, possesses sound fundamentals behind the plate and has been lauded for his character.

Eury Perez, Destin Hood, J.P. Ramirez, OF: This trio of outfielders played together last season at Single-A Hagerstown, and all three have drawn rave reviews. Ranked the eighth-best prospect in the Nationals‘ organization, Perez is a spark plug in center field and provides great speed on the base paths. He stole 64 bases for Hagers-town in 2010 and has strong instincts and lighting-quick bat speed. Hood, while still a bit raw, has shown great ability and sheer strength that has the Nationals high on his potential to be a toolsy left-handed corner outfielder at the major league level. Ramirez is perhaps the one who needs the most work defensively but is a good contact hitter, driving the ball well, a gap-to-gap hitter.

2010 draftees who will move quickly:

1. Bryce Harper, OF: There are not too many superlatives that haven’t been used to describe Harper. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Harper became the Nationals‘ best prospect the minute the ink dried on his major league contract last August. Harper was very impressive this spring during his time in major league camp and is expected to start the season at Single-A Hagerstown. He could be in Washington as early as this fall, though it’s more likely he’ll hit the main stage sometime during the 2012 season.

2. Sammy Solis, RHP: The Nationals‘ second-round pick in the 2010 draft, Solis is very highly regarded within the organization for his ability to pitch to both sides of the plate with good movement and a good angle on his fastball. Solis, ranked the Nationals‘ No. 6 prospect by Baseball America, was drafted out of the University of San Diego and is more advanced than many of the Nationals‘ pitching prospects, so he’s expected to move through the system fairly quickly. Baseball America, for one, projects him to be in the Nationals‘ starting rotation by 2014, if not sooner.

3. Rick Hague, SS: Taken in the third round of the draft last year out of Rice University, Hague is an impressive hitter who has the potential to be the organizationwide batting champion when all is said and done. Drawing comparisons to Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young, Hague has played at elite levels with Rice and Team USA. While he figures to begin the year at Single-A, Hague centers the ball well and can propel the ball to all fields, so he could one of the most fun minor league players to watch this season.

4. A.J. Cole, RHP:Cole fell to the Nationals in the fourth round last year over concerns about signability - and impressed the Washington scouts enough that they offered him a well over-slot $2 million signing bonus. Cole, at 6-foot-4, 181 pounds, has a large, lean frame and is projected a front-end starter in the future. Just 19 and drafted out of high school, Cole will likely start the season at one of the organization’s Single-A levels while he adjusts to a life of baseball.

5. Robbie Ray, LHP: - Another over-slot signing, Ray, a 12th-round selection, agreed to a $799,000 signing bonus - the second-highest bonus handed out to any player drafted after the fourth round in 2010. It was thought that Ray had a strong commitment to the University of Arkansas, thus his drop in the draft, but the Nationals locked him up and are impressed by what they’ve seen so far. Ray has an incredibly fluid, easy delivery and, at 19, already possesses a strong fastball/curveball/change-up repertoire. Look for him to start the year at one of the Single-A levels.